Boys. They’re different than girls.

Duh! No one knows this better than the parents of a boy. And nowhere is this difference more obvious than when considering whether or not to enroll your boy into Kindergarten. For some parents, it’s easier. They had sons in February or March. But for those of us with boys born in late summer or early fall, we nudge up against the edge of the cutoff date (which varies from school to school), and there’s a tough decision to be made—a decision we’ll live with for the next 13 years. At least.

THE TWO SCENARIOS

1.  You put him in, and he struggles a little because he is a year younger than some of the other kids. In the beginning it’s tough, but by mid-year the age difference has leveled somewhat and he hits his stride. He goes on to be the youngest valedictorian the school district has ever had. Great.

2. You put him in, and he struggles because he is a year younger than some of the other kids. He feels frustrated because he can’t keep up. He has a difficult time following classroom etiquette. He becomes a troublemaker, and he wears that mark and embraces that identity for the rest of his school years. Fraught with self-esteem problems, he drops out of school and becomes a drug dealer. Rats.

Most likely, if you put your son into school at the first available time, he will fall somewhere between these two scenarios.

The perceived risk of scenario 2, however, is enough for some parents to consider holding their son out of Kindergarten another year until he has more emotional maturity and social skills.

Ah, parenting. So much to consider. As the Violent Femmes almost said, “Should he stay or should he go now?”

REASONS TO PUSH HIM FORWARD

Assuming that your son has the basic skills needed for Kindergarten—he can count to 10, knows his shapes, uses six words in a sentence, puts on his own coat, and can hold a pencil—he is a reasonable candidate for attending school. And there are some compelling reasons why he should.

Money: If you’ve been putting your son in daycare up until now, you know darn well how much less you’ll be spending a year if he attends public school.

Pride: Of course he can do it! And the challenge will be good for him.

Friends: All his pre-school friends are going. It would be nice for him to continue those relationships, and you wouldn’t want him to feel left behind.

Boredom: He’s so bright. If we wait a year, school won’t be engaging enough for him. And would he really be happy in preschool with the 3-year-old kids still in diapers?

REASONS TO HOLD HIM BACK

Well, you don’t want him to be a drug dealer, do you? Aside from avoiding the worst case scenario, there are a few good reasons to keep him back.

Increased Emotional Maturity: Ask any Kindergarten teacher or elementary school principal (as I did) to tell you about boys who are problematic in the early years. They will often mention that the younger boys simply were not emotionally ready to be in the classroom. Their relative lack of self-control and inability to conform to classroom expectations set them up for struggle.

This was reinforced when I spoke with middle school teachers. They mentioned to me that the most problematic boys are often the youngest ones. It’s not just the kiddos, it’s the pre-pubescent boys who struggle, too.

Why is this? In large part, it’s how the boys act and react to their peers: with outbursts of inappropriately channeled energy. Of course. As Dan Kindlon and Michael Thomson write in Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys boys will “turn to activity as an outlet for a host of emotions—especially when their feelings outstrip their language skills or other options.” Translation: the younger they are, the less emotional skills they have, the more likely they are to be hyper. Hyper + school = uh oh.

Some schools, knowing that boys mature more slowly than girls, have tried to enroll 5-year-old girls and 6-year-old boys into their Kindergartens, and report success with this strategy. My own school district is considering it. But if the school doesn’t regulate it, parents might choose to take the situation into their own hands and hold their son back, even if legally he qualifies to attend school based on his birthday.

More Time to Play and Be a Kid: When I called our local principal and talked to her about whether or not to send my son, this was one of her main points for holding a boy back. The time will come soon enough for him to jump into the gotta-get-ahead fray. For now, let him play. That time devoted to imagination and creation will be more firmly seeded in him so it can blossom over the years.

One More Year You Get to Have Your Kid in Your House: He’ll be gone so soon.

BOTTOM LINE

After talking to my son’s preschool teachers, the Kindergarten teachers, the principal, every other mom of a boy on the edge of the cutoff, junior high teachers and reading many books on the subject, I finally chose to hold back my son.

He is insanely bright—the preschool teachers just gave me the thumbs up for him to go to Kindergarten on every skill level. He can argue his case about why he should stay up later like a lawyer. He’s in the 99th percentile for his height. And his birthday is September 11. He would be the youngest person in his class.

WORDS TO MAKE A DECISION BY

The words that resonate in my mind come from the principal, who also has a boy. “I have never met a parent who regretted holding her son back,” she said, “but I know many that wish that they had not put their kids in when they were on the edge.”

And after reading Raising Cain, I felt quite certain that giving my son an extra year to mature emotionally would help him have the self-esteem and social skills he needs to feel as if school is a pleasure and not a treadmill on which he can’t quite keep up.

The next choice: What to do with him in this interim year? That, dear readers, will be another column. Researching on …